Chelsea 0-0 Man City (3-4 on pens): Raheem Sterling penalty clinches Carabao Cup after Kepa controversy

Chelsea 0-0 Man City (3-4 on pens): Pep Guardiola’s team couldn't find the net in normal time but managed to come through in a shootout – after the Chelsea keeper refused to be substituted

Miguel Delaney
Wembley Stadium
Monday 25 February 2019 09:24 GMT
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Maurizio Sarri says Kepa Arrizabalaga incident was a 'big misunderstanding'

Gloriously, the first step of a possible quadruple for Manchester City, but maybe not quite in the freewheeling manner anticipated. Lamentably, another step towards the exit for Maurizio Sarri, but maybe not quite in the free-falling manner anticipated. The scenes with Kepa Arrizabalaga at the end of this Carabao Cup final were what no one anticipated, and have rarely been seen in professional football. They were simply incredible.

By that point, and the eventual penalty defeat after a 0-0 draw, the impressive resolve shown by Chelsea in making City fight right to the end to retain the Carabao Cup was overshadowed by farce. Sarri was completely undermined. He still has no first major trophy. But now just has more problems.

City meanwhile did just enough to overcome, with the Carabao Cup now the first trophy they have ever retained in their history. It wasn’t without some cost of its own, beyond the tired legs.

There also might be a greater cost for City, beyond the tired legs. There was also the injury to Fernandinho, who went off just before the end of the 90 minutes in tears.

That reflected how City were pushed to the limit, and made fight all the way.

Sarri’s temper was also pushed to the limit, however, the game ending with a fight that will undercut so much of this otherwise fine display.

It wasn’t just that City were not fully firing. It was that Chelsea were so comprehensively compact. Sarri did at last change things, to something this squad have been more generally familiar with. Rather than the system that has led to so many problems - and that 6-0 humiliation at the Etihad - there was an approach much more like the 2-0 win over Manchester City in December… and Antonio Conte’s style.

This is the disconnect that has been at the core of so much dismay of late. Whatever the problems with Sarri, whatever the problems with the players, this is a squad that has essentially been constructed - if that is even the correct word, given how many different coaches have been there - for counter-attacking football like this. They are just much more comfortable with it. It simultaneously meant they gave up fewer chances, and - crucially - looked more dangerous, with more moves that looked like proper Sarri football: quick interchanges at speed. Sure, they were infrequent, but they were pronounced enough and pointed enough to be notable.

There were also the number of times that Hazard had so much space to run into in the vast prairie of the City half. Sarri clearly wanted to exploit this, and it constantly looked dangerous.

Raheem Sterling scored the winner for City (AFP/Getty Images)

Hazard also grew in confidence with it as the game wore in, gradually revelling in the space. This, in a different way to what we’re accustomed to, was one of his finest displays for the club such was its effort and selflessness. One sharp ball almost brought the opening goal, only fro N’Golo Kante to divert the Belgian’s cross just over. One sharp run very definitively brought a bad foul from Nicolas Otamendi, and a fair booking.

If Sarri initially had in place a set-up that fit the game, Guardiola probably didn’t. One of City’s problems was that they had maybe one player too many that likes to hold the ball and play, and could have done with a bit more release.

They too often just kept the ball in attack, and allowed Chelsea to amass more defenders.

This has actually been a slight dilemma at times in their season, whether Guardiola goes for more of a possession team or a pacy team.

N'Golo Kante closes down Raheem Sterling (Reuters) (REUTERS)

There were more than a few occasions when it felt like they could have done with the extra thrust of Leroy Sane, rather than that extra pass played from Bernardo Silva or David Silva.

One attack in the first half ended with the ball just being passed back and forth in the air, until Aguero finally tried a shot that went higher into the air.

City just too often found that there was a Chelsea body in the way every time they thought they had some space. It was quite a contrast from the other end of the pitch.

It meant that, although City had more of the ball, Chelsea were creating more of the better chances with it.

With the game at stalemate, both managers tried to break it, with their highly significant first subs.

Sergio Aguero had a goal chalked off (Action Images via Reuters)

They were to produce the game’s biggest talking point, although not in the way the game intended. Sarri finally introduced the zip of Hudson-Odoi and then Ruben Loftus-Cheek, while Guardiola surprisingly went for even more ‘control’ in Ilkay Gundogan, before eventually giving his team what it for so long seemed like they needed: the directness of Sane.

It complemented the directness of Raheem Sterling, as Jorginho was forced into a hefty foul to bring the forward down on the break, and willingly took the most cynical of bookings.

And yet there was still the moment that might just have been the most significant for the rest of the competitions, let alone this match: the injury to Fernandinho. He went off clutching his groin and in tears.

Kepa seemed to be in similar pain towards the end of extra-time, which gave Chelsea the chance to put on penalty specialist Willy Caballero. Or so they all thought. In a remarkable display of public insubordination, Kepa refused to come off.

Sarri was furious, Caballero dejected. It put some pressure on Kepa to produce.

He did save from Leroy Sane, but let a soft Aguero shot through his body. Whether the Argentine’s former teammate Caballero would have saved it is unknown.

Ederson meanwhile showed impressive certainty in stopping David Luiz and - almost symbolically - a Jorginho pass.

They failed Sarri again. His days feel numbered. Maybe Kepa’s are too, though.

The number of major trophies on Guardiola’s CV, however, just keep going up.

The 18th was just much harder fought than almost any of them. And ended with a scene few will have ever witnessed before.

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